PHILADELPHIA -- Going into the 2015 NFL season, the question about the Philadelphia Eagles was whether they could be a contender after coach Chip Kelly spent the offseason remaking his roster.
Halfway through the season, as the 3-4 Eagles begin their bye week, the question has changed. Now it’s more like this: For all the changes Kelly made, are the Eagles ultimately limited by being a Chip Kelly team?
A word of explanation is necessary here. Through his first NFL season, Kelly seemed like perhaps the hottest new coach to hit the league in some time. He won the NFC East with a 10-6 record. He miraculously transferred Nick Foles from third-round pumpkin to NFL prince. It seemed like the sky would be the limit for Kelly.
After last season, things seemed a little less promising. The Eagles seemed perfectly capable of defeating flawed teams. But whenever they played a good, playoff-contending team, they lost.
They lost to San Francisco. They lost to Arizona. They lost to Green Bay. They lost to Seattle. They lost to Dallas.
After going 10-6 again, Kelly decided the problem was his roster. He traded Foles for Sam Bradford. He traded LeSean McCoy for Kiko Alonso. He signed Byron Maxwell, DeMarco Murray, Ryan Mathews and Walter Thurmond III.
It would be a radically different team.
Except it is a team that seems remarkably similar to the 2014 Eagles. The Eagles had a chance to prove otherwise when they played the unbeaten Carolina Panthers Sunday night. Instead, they lost a game that felt a lot like their losses to good teams in 2014.
“Good teams find a way to win close games,” center Jason Kelce said, “and I think we’ve lost a lot of close games.”
Three quarterbacks have played about a half-season each for Kelly over the past 14 months:
Foles threw 13 touchdowns and 10 interceptions before breaking his collarbone midway through the 2014 season. His passer rating was 81.4.
Mark Sanchez threw 14 touchdowns and 11 interceptions after taking over for Foles. His passer rating was 88.4.
Bradford has thrown 9 touchdowns and 10 interceptions through seven games of the 2015 season. His passer rating is 76.4.
Now it could be that those are merely three serviceable NFL starting quarterbacks, and their numbers reflect that. But Kelly traded Foles for Bradford because he believed the Eagles needed an upgrade at the quarterback position and that Bradford would provide that upgrade.
There are other factors. The quarterbacks are all working with a cast of talent that Kelly has assembled around them. Kelly got rid of playmakers – DeSean Jackson, McCoy, and Jeremy Maclin -- and replaced them with Murray, Mathews, Nelson Agholor, Jordan Matthews, and Darren Sproles.
But the possibility -- that this season’s frustrating inconsistency is the result of Kelly’s handiwork -- is tough to ignore. It is frankly the simplest explanation for the Eagles’ 3-4 start, simpler than Bradford, Murray, Mathews and Agholor all being mistakes who happen to be playing below their previous standards this year.
That isn’t to say that things can’t get better. If all of these new pieces are allowed to keep playing together and develop some chemistry, the Eagles could improve over the course of the season. And that means they could continue to improve and grow in future seasons.
It’s possible, but no more possible than the prospect that the Eagles have become more and more Chip Kelly’s team. And in the NFL, this is what a Chip Kelly team looks like.